What is a tree?

Golden Ceiling
at M J M

A tree is a plant.
It is a plant.
It is a type of plant.
A tree is a type of plant.

The Problem of Vocabulary

Of course we know this. We know that trees are plants. We know that trees are plants but it is difficult for us to say this because we do not have the vocabulary. Let’s develop our vocabulary by reading!

Concrete and Abstract

A tree is a plant. It is a physical thing. We can see it and we can touch it. Trees are real things. Trees are concrete things. They are real concrete things but they are also something more. The idea of the tree has an abstract meaning.

Look at this dichotomy:

concrete – abstract

A tree is a concrete object.

The idea of a tree is an abstract idea.

The Parts of a Tree

Look at the parts of a tree:


We understand the meaning of these words as concrete things.

A Drawing Activity – a Diagram

Draw a picture of a tree and mark the words as labels on the parts of the tree.

That is a real tree.
That is a physical tree.
That is a concrete tree.

The Idea of Tree as Metaphor

Let us look at an abstract tree:

I bank at the Universal Bank. I go to my local branch.
What is the name of your branch?
My local branch is the Greenwich Village Branch.
Which bank do you use?
I use the Universal bank too.
Which branch?
I use the Harlem Branch.

Look at another example:

I work for a small company. The company has its head office in Bangkok. There are branches in Chiang Mai and Udon Thani.

We can see that “branch” can mean “office” or “local office”. A tree has a trunk and branches come from the trunk. They grow from the trunk. Head office has subsidiary offices and the main trunk of the tree has subsidiary branches. The structure of the organisation is like a tree. A tree has a trunk and branches, and an organisation has a head office and branch offices. The structure of the organisation is like a tree.

The Family Tree

We can make a family tree. This is a diagram of our family that sows each person as a fruit on the branches of a tree. The pattern of the tree shows the patterns of kinship. The family stems from a common root.

The Human Being Has Limbs Like a Tree

Let us look at another example:

A tree has limbs.
A human being has limbs.

A person who is paralysed in the lower limbs (legs) limbs is a paraplegic.

A person who is paralysed in four limbs is a quadriplegic.

the lower limbs – the legs

the upper limbs – the arms

A tree has limbs.
A person has limbs.

People who have lost limbs can get a prosthetic limb.

A limb is a branch of a tree but it is also a branch of a human being. We use the same word for both things.


We use metaphors from the idea of the tree to describe aspects of our physical environment and our mental environment, as metaphors.

Link to the Metaphor Page

Trees are everywhere. They are in our consciousness. They are members of our family. They are part of our life.

We must have trees. We cannot do without trees.
We cannot survive without trees.

We are linked to the forest.

We are linked to trees.

A Poem about Trees

A Poem about Trees: Trees are Brothers

A Story from a Forest

You can read a story from a forest about a man and a tree.

4 Responses to “What is a tree?”

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  1. anonymous says:

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  2. Gamini says:

    Please include an MP3 file too along with these lessons so that we can download.

  3. Gamini says:

    I’d like these lessons very much. Thanks a lot.

  4. Daniel Hooft says:

    It’s the first time I read your informations and I find it’s a very good idea to use concrete and abstract examples. I’m learning to improve my English but I teach French and Dutch and most books, most courses, only “speak” about concrete vocabulary, so the students don´t have any idea of the second sense of words and don´t understand discourses of “2nd level” (metaphors)

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